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It could have been a major train wreck but His Kind of Woman (1951) is surprisingly entertaining. Its style is film noir, but it's as wacky as it is tense. Its comedy is raucous, thanks largely to Vincent Price's memorable histrionics. Its melodrama and violence are over-the-top. Its sexual innuendo is everywhere and it manages to showcase three songs, all of them performed by Jane Russell. It's also crude and course yet boasts high production values. And in some crazy way, it all holds together throughout its two hour plus running time.
Robert Mitchum stars as a professional gambler who's offered $50,000 to go to a Mexican resort and await further instructions. On the way, he meets sultry Jane Russell, and the sparks fly oh-so-obviously but deliciously as they travel the rest of the way together. In Mexico, Mitchum learns that his "job" is to provide his face to Raymond Burr, a mobster who is wanted by U.S. authorities and who has determined that the best way for him to get back into the country is to have his face altered by plastic surgery into that of Mitchum's. (Burr's character was based on real-life gangster "Lucky" Luciano.) Meanwhile, Mitchum and Russell keep up their animal-like seduction even though Russell has been having an affair with a married guest at the resort, Vincent Price.
Price seems to be having the time of his life in His Kind of Woman, playing a ham actor in one of the funniest and most outrageous performances of his career. When producer Howard Hughes saw what Price was doing with the part, he loved it and drummed up some more comedy sequences for him. This, in contrast to the dramatic scenes of Mitchum sparring with Burr, made the film wildly uneven in tone. Price later wrote, "I think Bob [Mitchum] was disappointed at the direction the script took because if he had known about the comic tilt, he would have played his character in a lighter vein."
Price also wrote that Mitchum was "heaven to work with...one of those diamond in the rough types in whose character you can't find any sort of holes because he's so open and honest...He's a complete anachronism. He claims he doesn't care about acting, but he's an extraordinary actor. He's one of that group of people in Hollywood who are such extraordinary personalities that people forget they're marvelous actors." Mitchum was very generous on set, treating about 20 cast and crew members to lunch in his bungalow every day, and "on several occasions when he realized his stand-in had had a rough night, he stood in for the stand-in."
Jane Russell in this picture has been described by one writer as "a towering, walking, jiggling assemblance of pulchritudinous flesh which bursts forth from specially designed skimpy costumes, especially a black bathing suit that is hardly there." It's true that the actress models more tight-fitting outfits here than one can count, and while this is entertaining, it's also the result of Howard Hughes's infantile obsession with her cleavage. Before shooting started on Macao (1952), Russell's next picture for Hughes, the eccentric producer wrote a famous memo to his studio manager with specific instructions as to the types of bras and outfits the actress should wear: "I want her wardrobe, wherever possible, to be low-necked (and by that I mean as low as the law allows) so that the customers can get a look at the part of Russell which they pay to see," wrote Hughes. In any event, Russell gets away with it in His Kind of Woman because her attitude comes off as totally unpretentious and matter-of-fact. She's in on the joke.
Director John Farrow (and an uncredited Richard Fleischer) do a good job with the sordid, pulp fiction material. The scene where Mitchum is stripped to the waist, savagely beaten, and restrained so that a dangerous drug can be injected into him is outrageously over the top in terms of how it is written, but Fleischer's choices of lighting and angles make it thrilling and gorgeous. This is a scene that must be seen to be believed! Farrow and Mitchum got along very well together. They had met socially a couple of years before this film and went on a marathon drinking match. From that auspicious beginning a friendship formed, leading to a collaboration on the 1950 film noir Where Danger Lives and then this follow-up.
His Kind of Woman was finished in May 1950 but sat on the shelf until September 1951. Hughes originally envisioned teaming Mitchum and Russell in a series of films a la Bogart and Bacall, but only one more pairing, Macao, ever materialized. That film was shot in the fall of 1950 and it, too, sat on the shelf for well over a year before it was released.
Producer: Howard Hughes, Robert Sparks
Director: John Farrow
Screenplay: Gerald Drayson Adams (story), Frank Fenton, Jack Leonard
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editing: Frederic Knudtson, Eda Warren
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino
Music: Leigh Harline, Harold Adamson
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Dan Milner), Jane Russell (Lenore Brent), Vincent Price (Mark Cardigan), Tim Holt (Bill Lusk), Charles McGraw (Thompson), Marjorie Reynolds (Helen Cardigan).
by Jeremy Arnold